In a three-week span last fall, two separate lawsuits were filed against the University of Tennessee by current and former athletic department employees.
Almost eight months later, pending litigation against the university has seen developments, but little traction.
In one case claiming discrimination and retaliation, the second of three plaintiffs has been relieved of duties by the university.
In the other case based on similar allegations, the university has added highly regarded outside counsel to the fray.
In both, a new presiding federal judge, Karen K. Caldwell of Kentucky’s Eastern District Court, and new United State Magistrate Judge H. Bruce Guyton, have been assigned.
Each case will eventually move forward, traveling parallel lines.
Last Thursday brought confirmation from UT that associate strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason has been placed on administrative leave and will no longer be employed by the university as of June 3.
Mason is a co-plaintiff with current associate athletics director for sports medicine Jenny Moshak and former associate director for women’s strength and conditioning Collin Schlosser in a U.S. District Court lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation filed on Oct. 11, 2012. Schlosser was among 15 UT athletic department employees terminated on April 16, 2012.
Reached by the News Sentinel on Wednesday, attorney Keith Stewart declined to offer a formal statement regarding Mason’s dismissal. Stewart has represented Moshak, Mason and Schlosser since the three originally filed a discrimination complaint with the university in February 2010.
In the suit, the three plaintiffs alleged that members of the UT men’s athletic department received more favorable wages than women’s athletic department personnel for comparable jobs.
Only one plaintiff — Moshak — remains employed by the university.
The 24-year veteran of the athletic department sat behind a fold-out table in the university bookstore the same day it was learned Mason had been terminated. She greeted fans, signing copies of her new book, “Ice ‘N’ Go,” a how-to on personal training and raising young athletes. The bookstore’s mural of Ayers Hall served as the backdrop.
The lawsuit withstanding, The University of Tennessee Press published Moshak’s book.
Schlosser, meanwhile, currently works as a personal trainer in Chicago.
Most recently, Caldwell denied the plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment based on UT’s “failure to answer the complaint.”
In the case of former Lady Vols publicist Debby Jennings, a separate suit filed on Sept. 27, 2012, alleging “unlawful discrimination and retaliation” against the university and athletic director Dave Hart — UT has retained outside council. Attorney Edward G. Phillips, head of the Employment and Labor group for Knoxville law firm Kramer Rayson, is now on board.
UT spokeswoman Margie Nichols told the News Sentinel on Wednesday the decision was based on “workload issues.”
“The (university’s) general counsel has the ability to hire outside counsel when needed,” Nichols said.
Jennings is represented by Burkhalter, Rayson & Associates.
UT has not formally responded to the Moshak, Mason, Schlosser suit or the suit filed by Jennings. Only motions to dismiss aspects of the complaints have been filed.
On Thursday, both sides will join the suit’s newly assigned judges for a status conference. Attorney David Burkhalter said on Wednesday he was unsure of the scope of the teleconference.
Jennings, who spent more than 35 years as the primary media contact for Lady Vols athletics, is seeking monetary and injunctive relief. Her suit alleges that she was “marginalized and ostracized” and “denied employment opportunities due to her gender/or age.”
That is the crux of the suit’s unlawful termination and retaliation facet.
Mason’s recent termination may open the door for the same complaint to be added to the Moshak, Mason, Schlosser suit. No reason was given by UT for the move when asked by the News Sentinel.
In 10 years with the Lady Vols, Mason worked extensively with the basketball program and was “responsible for all facets of training 11 Lady Vol teams,” according to her biography in a UT media guide.
In a recent interview with the Sports Animal, Lady Vols basketball coach Holly Warlick said she will have considerable input in hiring Mason’s replacement, adding, “We have to get in better shape. We have to get basketball specific.”